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Turning to Salers for extra hybrid vigour

Bringing in fresh blood is becoming fashionable for some beef herds, so cattle breeds will be pushing hard to sell their merits. Barry Alston reports.

Convinced he needed to add extra vigour to his beef cattle, Mid Wales farmer Richard Tudor has introduced Salers to his system, previously based mainly on Simmental cross Friesian dams with Charolais bulls used as terminal meat sires.

He believes the breed has lived up to its promise as a quiet, easy to manage animal, with cross-bred growth rates just behind those by the farm’s existing Charolais bulls.

Richard farms in partnership with his parents Tom and Ann at Llysun, Lanerfyl, in Powys - a 283ha (700-acre) upland holding with land from 500 to 1,300ft. It is mostly down to long-term leys, with stocking based on 110 beef suckler cows plus replacement heifers, and 1,400 Welsh Mule and Texel cross Welsh Mule ewes.

“The cattle side was initially based on Simmental cross Friesians because of the difficulty finding Friesian replacements of the right quality. We have bred Simmental crosses back to Simmental, so many of our suckler cows are closer to the Simmental. We cross out with the Charolais for our beef calves,” says Richard.

“We sell some weaned calves at 10-12 months and finish the rest at 18-20 months. The herd calves indoors in mid-April and is then turned out to grass. They can be out as late as the end of November.

“We have been pleased with our Simmental cross cows and will not change them, but felt we were starting to lose some hybrid vigour.

“We needed a cow that would cope with our tougher hill ground, is easy fleshing, able to largely look after herself, as easy calving as possible, and quiet and easy to handle.Longevity is a necessity, too, for the longer you can keep your cows, the lower the replacement costs will be.

“Above all we felt the chosen breed had to fit in well with our existing system, including being a good match with the Charolais.

“We looked at a number of breeds, including a composite,until we found out a friend who works for Genus had been to France, seen Salers in their home region and had been impressed.

“We decided to AI 15 Simmental cross heifers with a Salers bull - Theoreme - and all calved down successfully last spring.

“I went to the Salers Society sale in Castle Douglas in 2008, more than anything just to see what was there, and bought 22 Salers yearling heifers.

“We sell all our stores through Welshpool market, while finished steers and heifers mostly go to ABP Shrewsbury, aiming to average 350kg at good R grades.

“Ewes go to Texel and Charollais tups for mid-March lambing, with all lambs destined for Waitrose. Last year’s average carcase weight was 18.7kg, with grades mostly U and R.

“In the coming years we will move more to store production and away from finishing cattle,” says Richard. “Traditionally this farm carried 10 ewes to one cow. We hope to increase cow numbers to 140, while keeping sheep numbers the same. We will look to tighten the calving period for easier management.

“This is a stock rearing farm. Providing we can keep costs down, there is a sound future for suckler beef store production here.”

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